Private equity investment in a nursing home is  a poignant bellwether of the abyss of nursing home care

This blog is presented as a commentary on an article published in The New Yorker on August 25, 2022, by Ms. Yasmin Rafiei.  Her piece, entitled “When Private Equity Takes Over A Nursing Home”, affirms a sad reality.  When big money invests in nursing homes resident care diminishes and harm, abuse, and death occur.

            Highlighted in the article is the St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged, in Richmond Virginia. For nearly one-hundred fifty years, it operated on a time-honored tradition: Treat older people as family, in facilities that feel like a home.

            In 2021, due in part to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the home was sold to a private equity firm. That firm, Portopiccolo Group, own over one hundred facilities. As part of their bon fides, they represented to the seller, the residents, their loved ones, and indeed to the entire community at large that they intended to “keep things the way they are.”

            Meaning they would keep residents safe, secure, and treated with dignity.

            However, this did not occur. Literally, in the immediate days following the sale there was a mass exodus of long-term staff, cutbacks, and take of increasing the number of residents.  Many of these staff members had worked at the home for decades.

            Why?  Because of plans to cut staff, increase the number of residents (census), and add residents that the facility was not equipped to care for. What occurred was stark – resident dining options were curtailed, quality of care suffered, and the hygienic needs of some residents became almost non-existent. The sad reality – harm and abuse became rampant.

            A study from the University of Pennsylvania, led by economist Mr. Atul Gupta and his group, came to a profound conclusion: When private-equity firms acquired nursing homes, deaths among residents increased by a whopping  average of ten (10%) percent.

            No surprises here. Once again, the main reason is due to a lack of staffing. Why? Because hiring, maintaining, training, and employing staff is usually the “largest operating cost” to a nursing home. At the result is without question: “Nurse availability is the most important determinant of quality of care.”

At homes with fewer direct-care nurses, residents are bathed less. They fall more, because there are fewer hands to help them to the bathroom or into bed. They suffer more dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss, and higher self-reported pain levels. They develop more pressure ulcers and a greater number of infections. They make more emergency-room visits, and they’re hospitalized more often. “They get all kinds of problems that could be prevented,” Charlene Harrington, a professor emeritus of sociology and nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, said, of residents at homes with lower nurse-staffing levels. “It’s criminal.”

            How distressing, telling and offensive: The American Health Care Association, the country’s largest nursing home lobbying group, is against raising minimum staffing levels.

            Back to the St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged. Here is a stat that might cause your head to explode:

Before last June’s sale, the Little Sisters’ home had a mere four infections and zero deaths from covid.

            We all know what happened next; cases spread, and death followed. As cited by the article: A longtime nurse, on the condition of anonymity, said that ‘It was totally preventable”.

            This story is not unique to Portopiccolo or to St. Joseph’s. Another Portopiccolo home in North Carolina has been cited by the federal government as a “special focus facility,” indicating that the nursing home was among the worst in the U.S.

This seems to be the modus operandi of Portopiccolo. In the months after Portopiccolo acquired St. Joseph’s, news of a class-action lawsuit in North Carolina was widespread. A popular article, by NC Policy Watch, summarized the facility’s care as “far from the ‘five-star’ service residents and family members were promised by Accordius Health.” 

What can you do. Advocate for your loved ones. Let your political leaders know will stand for and with our seniors. And as important as anything you can do – vote.  Vote for those who care; not be words, but by action.

Nursing Home Advocates

If you or someone you know is injured, please consider contacting Adams Law Firm, P.C. We have a successfully advocated on behalf of those injured due to harm, abuse and neglect throughout New York State and Northern New Jersey. There is no legal fee until we are successful.

Should you have any question, please contact us toll free at 888 MY 911 LAW (888.699.1152), or by email through our contact form here.

Thank you.

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